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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Career Guest Speaker question #2

Here is my answer to question #2 for the Career Day at Crescent Heights High School: What are the best and the worst things you can share with us about your job?

The worst part? keeping track of paperwork and keeping my books. Luckily, my wife, Corinne, helps out a lot with the paperwork. There are highs and lows with creativity. When I get into a low, its hard to break out of it.

The best part? I am my own boss and can generally work my own hours. However, this can lead to working too long, too late, too hard and leave little time for family and friends.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Career Day At Crescent Heights High School

I was disappointed to have to cancel my appearance at Career Day at Crescent Heights High School in Calgary. I was looking forward to meeting students interested in careers in the arts. I was stuck in the hospital with pneumonia. I have never been that sick before, and it's been a slow recovery. I am finally back to sculpting, with lots of breaks. I usually do not take breaks, so this has been a humbling experience for me.

I will tackle one question at a time, so it will take 8 entries to answer them all. If any students have questions for me, please feel free to have your teacher email them to me.

I received a list of questions to cover for Career Day. I am going to answer those questions here, so that any students that are interested can see what I would have talked about that day:
Question #1 of 8:
1. What has been your educational journey up to this point in your career?

I always loved drawing but my designated high school was an academic school with no art program. I didn't do well in school and had a lot of help studying from my mom. She was a high school teacher. I had poor reading skills and was in the lowest level classes. I did NOT enjoy school at all.

I ended up taking summer school correspondence courses to get all my credits to graduate high school. Looking back, I wish I had had the courage to go to the technical school that was available.

I was offered a job by my neighbour at a muffler shop when I was 17 . I learned to weld there. I think I would have applied my skills to art no matter where I worked. For example, if I had worked in a wood trade, like cabinetry, I might be a wood carver instead of a metal sculptor.

I would take the used parts and start building sculptures. One of my first was a 6 foot muffler man made out of mufflers, resonators, springs, pipes and brakes. Lucky for me, the area supervisor for the muffler shop was supportive of my art and had the muffler man on display outside his office for a while. It was also used in a fun company team building video and at a career day at SAIT. I have a couple of pictures of "Muffler Man" here. Please note he is wearing my hat!

I am telling you this story, because when I was your age, I started on the path towards two careers, one as a journeyman mechanic and one as a professional artist. It took me until I was 40 years old to finally become a full time artist. I am glad that I have another career to fall back on, but I wished that I had picked my back up career, instead of letting it pick me. I didn't plan my career path, and ended up just following through with the first real job I had in high school.

I enjoyed being a mechanic when I was working on the older vehicles. I didn't find electronics very exciting. As cars evolved, they started to have more electronic components, and my joy in working on newer cars faded. I miss the character of the older vehicles. I still love old cars and have a 67 GTO and a 67 Grand Prix.

I took private drawing lessons when I was a teenager. I took my mechanic's apprenticeship in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I took a one year apprenticeship in plumbing and learned how to hold a hammer drill at the top of a giant ladder, among other things!

Outside of work skills, I took a lost wax casting course and about 3 months of private lessons from a jeweller in the early 1990's.

In 1994, I read about a contest in Sculpture Magazine. On a whim, I made an entry. The magazine came out of the United States, and I never dreamed that I would actually be considered. However, I won first place for my design "Spawning Salmon" for CARHENGE, in Alliance NB ( . That was a huge educational experience for me. I was working full time as a mechanic, had a short deadline, and had to create, deliver and install the sculpture myself. Sometimes experience is the best teacher. I learned a great deal through the process.

In 1996, I took an excellent course in Haystack, Maine from Tom Muir. He is an amazing silver smith and although I only had a two week course with him, it has had a lifelong impact on me. You never know when you will meet someone that has an incredible impact on your life. When you have opportunities, take them, as they might never come again. I have been trying to take another course with Tom ever since, but my schedule and finances never meshed with his courses.

Another opportunity arose when I took a course from Jeff de Boer ( I had come across his work in Reader's Digest and admired his mouse armour. My wife, Corinne, was taking her break at work and was checking out the ACAD website for classes. What are the chances that she found one that he was offering that started that very day! You needed a prerequisite or the instructor's permission and the class started in 2 hours. Her boss generously let her leave early from work. She came home and found me very sick at home. She packed up my portfolio, and our 2 year old son and me and drove us to the course. She didn't want me to miss the opportunity and did everything possible to get me there! She and our son waited in the truck for two hours in an amazing rain storm, so they could drive me home at the end of the class. Jeff reviewed my portfolio and accepted me into the course. He later offered me a job in his studio and I worked for him for three years as a Techical Assistant. It was a great learning on the job experience that enhanced many of my skills. I assisted on many projects, including cat armour, bronzes, and the tin toy carousel sculptures at the Westjet Terminal. Being able to work on metal full time made me realize that I did want to be a full time sculptor. Later, when I started working full time, Jeff sub contracted part of the barbed wire horse at the Glenbow Museum to me. You never know what an opportunity will lead to.

Other opportunities came up to work at places like F and D Scene Changes and Heavy Industries . I developed my skills in reading blue prints and work on large scale sets and props. I learned how to weld aluminum at F and D.

I do not have an art degree or certificate. For the most part, I am self taught. Sometimes I wish I had gone to art school, as I often learn skills the hard way, from trial and error. I couldn't afford to attend art school. Also, a close family friend that was an art teacher recommended that I didn't go. She felt that I might lose some of my individuality. It was a comfort to me to believe this, since I couldn't afford to go anyways.

I chose to set myself up financially with a house and a back up career first and then pursue my career as a full time artist. I fell in love at age 22 and got married. 10 years later we had the first of two wonderful children. With that came a lot of responsibilities. We all have our own experiences and choices that step by step take us down the journey of each of our lives. I don't think there are any right or wrong paths to the career as an artist. I do think it is a difficult career that each artist pours a lot of heart and soul into.